BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that he had ordered his air force to halt strikes on civilian areas, addressing a condition set by Sunni Muslim tribal figures to support his campaign against Islamic State fighters.
Rights groups say Iraqi government attacks this year, many of them in areas held by the Islamic State which controls one third of the country, have indiscriminately targeted civilians.
“I have ordered the Iraqi Air Force to halt shelling of civilian areas even in those towns controlled by ISIS,” Abadi said on his official Twitter account, using the former name for militant group Islamic State.
The United Nations representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the comments, which were repeated by Abadi at a conference about refugees on Saturday in Baghdad.
“Protection of civilians and ensuring their safety and security is a paramount priority for the United Nations,” Mladenov said.
Diplomats and Iraqi politicians from across Iraq’s political spectrum hope Abadi, who formed a cabinet on Monday, can detoxify the political system to form a unified front against Islamic State.
Sunni Muslim tribal figures have demanded a freeze on military action on civilian areas as one of the conditions for their support of Abadi’s Shi’ite-led government against Islamic State.
Iraqi authorities have cracked down on Sunni protests over the past two years, using barrel bombs to hit Islamic State fighters who hide among civilians.
Abadi said the order had been issued on Thursday. On the same day, 14 barrel bombs were dropped on Falluja city, killing 22 civilians, a source at a hospital in the city said.
A resident in Islamic State dominated Ramadi said there had been attacks throughout Friday on villages around the city, killing at least three civilians.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes, editing by Dominic Evans